The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is available in three distinct levels; Bronze, Silver and Gold.
Each level challenges young people to complete activities in Service, Physical Recreation, Skills and Adventurous Journey, with the Gold level also requiring a Residential Project.
The award is a prestigious and multi-faceted programme which seeks to encourage young people to build self-confidence, learn new skills and discover their potential.
None of which necessarily has anything to do with cows or radios, but I’m getting there.
Our school encourages participation in the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award by expecting all of our Year 11 students to participate in an overnight tramp, 75 at a time.
But we do make it easy. We go to an island. Teenagers can’t get lost on an island, right? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s an island. But each year, one or more groups surprise us with just how easy it is to get lost.
One group for example, encountered a sign proudly pointing the way to “CM Base”.
One of the students read the sign and declared to the others, “CM, that means Camp. We have to go this way.”
The other four students in the group enthusiastically agreed, somehow managing to ignore the map that the group was carrying. A map that shows the camp is actually on the adjoining island. A map that also explains the CM Base stands for a Controlled Mine base, a relic of World War II.
But getting to the correct camp, while avoiding World War II mines, is only just part of the challenge.
On arrival at camp, students have to put up their own tents and cook their own dinner. And this is where “resilience” becomes more than just a word adults use.
Resilience becomes the word used when someone discovers they left the bag of tent poles back at school, or they forgot to pack the gas canister, or they can’t work out where the flush toilets are. Or they give voice to the greatest fear known to their generation: “Where do I plug my phone in?”
Somehow they manage. They even start enjoying themselves by discovering that there is great satisfaction in overcoming challenges and that the absence of technology does not mean the end of the world.
Of course, they are only halfway there.
After the night spent sleeping in their tents, comes breakfast, the big clean-up and repacking, before the big tramp out to greet the ferry ride home.
This is where sore limbs and tired minds are met with the intractable enthusiasm of the teachers, pointing out that if the students miss the ferry they are welcome to stay another night.
And so we come at last to the most famous line ever uttered in the history of our school tramps.
It transpires because the students are not led by teachers. The adults are stationed at check-points throughout the tramp or walk the route while not telling the groups where to go. They are only there for verbal and emotional support.
However, for safety reasons, the leader of each student group, who is often an older student, is given a walkie-talkie.
And so it happens that we were unable to reach the student-leader on the walkie-talkie. Their group was late to a check-point and we needed to confirm they were OK. But no answer. We resorted to our back-up plan; phones. Yes, we had them in case of emergencies.
So we rang the student-leader and asked why they hadn’t answered their walkie-talkie.
The response? “Sir, a cow stole my radio!”
Our students, you see, are somewhat terrified of cows.
As the group was walking past a herd of cows the walkie-talkie rang with the sounds of teachers involved in witty repartee.
The cows were intrigued and followed the sound of the walkie-talkie. The panicked student-leader dropped the walkie-talkie and ran away.
The cows surrounded the walkie-talkie, still burbling contently, and the student-leader was too scared to go and retrieve it.
For all we know, the cows are still enjoying the sound of that walkie-talkie to this day.